This year is all about the cursive handwriting, specifically, the fine line tattoo.
It could be empowering phrases like “Believe in yourself” and “Follow your dreams,” which come from self-help culture, are friendly reminders of self-care.
Or, our favorite song lyrics inked on our body, one phrase at a time.
Small-scale, fine line tattoo is an accessory to style together with a Dior handbag, a Chanel dress or a piece of Gucci jewelry, oddly enough.
Sop Lee is a fashion-forward tattoo artist who has been inking phrases for years. Whether it’s names of loved ones, or phrases like “Love yourself” and “Embrace chaos,” he is a minimalist artist and designer who has designed stamps and stickers with small-scale companies, and aims to be a tattoo teacher one day, with a focus on thin and delicate line work.
As he explains: “My father has really good handwriting, and he taught me to write beautifully, so my delicate linework tattoos are an extension of the legacy my father passed down to me, it’s all thanks to him I have beautiful handwriting.” Sop Lee speaks about tattoos as accessories, Thom Browne t-shirts and the art of delicate linework.
Forbes: I love your work; how does it tie into the bigger picture of how tattoos are integral to fashion and style?
Sop Lee: My very small and thin tattoo work is not just a tattoo, but an accessory. It is an accessory that will never be lost, it’s there forever. Because it is small and thin, it’s delicate and special. I always try to create small and simple design work, with special focus points that can be seen from a distance—its own special kind of fashion, in a way. My tattoos are easy and light, not too heavy, but still attractive enough to create a special kind of synergy when it’s fused together with high fashion.
What style of lettering is more popular?
Lettering is super popular in tattoos this year, probably because it’s the most accessible design for those who are new to tattooing—it leaves a mark, but it’s not as regrettable as some other designs, meaning that it’s easily hidden, if the need be. I think a lettering tattoo is like a white Thom Browne t-shirt that you can wear comfortably at any time. A lettering tattoo that is comfortable and intuitive, but can be a point like an accessory, is always in the highest demand and popularity. A handwritten tattoo that can always be used with a new design even for the same sentence or word is not just lettering, but my identity.
What other style of light penmanship tattoos are trending right now, and will see a rise in 2023?
Constellation tattoos are also popular, too, with the rise of astronomy in pop culture and fashion—everyone has their own constellations, and much of it is thanks to astrology, as well as science fiction series. Bringing a star from the sky onto my body is somehow magical. We can see constellations everywhere in fashion; there are star-and-moon printed dresses by British brand Rixo, star-print dresses by Harley Viera-Newton’s label HVN, Marks & Spencer’s Constellation dress, and Christian Dior’s fairytale-inspired “l’étoile” sweater. It’s a popular kind of symbolism in clothes, accessories, and shoes. The idea that each of us have a different star-shaped accessory is the reason why constellation tattoos are so popular.
What about the airplane tattoos, that’s something you do, as well. Why do people like them?
The wanderlust of travel gives us anticipation and excitement. And since the best way to describe a trip is an airplane, plane tattoos are always a popular material. What makes them meaningful is that we can transform the joy of travel into designs that we can see with our own eyes and keep with us forever.
What makes the most interesting story to talk about, in your eyes?
For me, it’s creating a tattoo design that doesn’t completely cover the moles or wounds on someone’s body. I think this has a lot in common with fashion, as well, as being able to use design to cover up one’s shortcomings is what tattoos and fashion have in common. The power of fashion design, which can sometimes make legs look longer and sometimes make narrow shoulders look wider, can also be seen in tattoos, in where they’re placed on the body.
What are the most popular tattoos you are doing?
Thin line work, it’s a genre in itself. In fashion, when it comes to accessories like high-end handbags by Dior, Chanel or Talbot’s, earrings, and jewelry by Gucci, which are large or small, thin or thick, and have a design that suits each of our personalities. The same goes for tattoos. I think that the charm of a minimalist design is a safe bet in tattoos. Small, thin linework in tattoos are always charming and easy to adapt to over the years, that’s why they’re so popular.
What kind of phrases do people want to have on them?
There are so many different phrases that each individual wants, but the most popular phrases are “love myself” and “love yourself.” It can be a meaningful sentence to anyone, not to a specific person. Or many people want a tattoo with lettering about an artist they love, so even love-related phrases, which are phrases from BTS albums, are popular. So, it’s twofold; personal and popular.
Why is cursive handwriting so popular as a font?
As I practiced cursive handwriting, I was able to write the same word or sentence in very different designs. I think many people thought that my lettering tattoo designs were stylish, cool, and lighthearted, especially in that each one is so personalized for each person. But everyone wants a readable tattoo, so they must be spaced out accordingly. But not always—sometimes, cursive handwriting tattoos are chosen by people who want to keep it private, so they get them inside their biceps, a private spot.
What is a popular spot for cursive handwriting tattoos, in how they’re worn together with fashion?
When clients are thinking about where to get a tattoo, I always ask what kind of fashion they want the tattoo to stand out the most. Rather than approaching tattoos simply as tattoos, I always make a connection with fashion. In fact, it’s a huge help in determining the location of the tattoo.